domingo, 27 de agosto de 2023

Cults of RuneQuest: The Lightbringers review

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Cults of RuneQuest: The Lightbringers is a supplement for RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha by Greg Stafford and Jeff Richard detailing 19 cults of the Storm gods and adjacent deities. In the world of Glorantha, everyone follows at least one cult that lends its worshipers a portion of the deity's power and provides a set of moral codes that define their everyday behavior. Since the Lightbringers and related deities are some of the most important gods and goddesses in the area of Dragon Pass and Prax where the current edition of RuneQuest is mainly set, this book, together with Cults of RuneQuest: The Earth Goddesses, is essential for any campaign in those areas, and others. In this review, I tell you everything about it, including my personal impressions. 

A note on biases: I have been a fan of RuneQuest and Glorantha since the early 90s, so I couldn't wait to have this book on my hands. Also, Chaosium sent me a copy so I could review it, but rest assured I have tried my best to be objective and write the review with a critical eye. Please tell me if you think otherwise.

The amazing cover by Loïc Muzy with an imposing image of Orlanth the Storm God towering above two enemy deities.

The content

The gods and goddesses are a central part of playing any game set in Glorantha, and cults are the organizations that structure the worship of these deities. They are not religions as we currently understand them, because belief plays no part in the life of Gloranthans: they know for a fact that gods exist. The only choice is what particular god or goddess your character chooses to worship in earnest. This choice is obviously biased by the culture your character was born in, and so for example, the inhabitants of Sartar, Heortland, Esrolia, and Prax tend to worship the Storm gods and the Earth goddesses, and adjacent deities. Some of these deities are also worshiped in distant lands.

The list of contents of Cults of RuneQuest: The Lightbringers

While the RuneQuest corebook provides just the basic information about some of these cults so you can get started, in the Cults of RuneQuest series of supplements you get the complete information about them, and also many others. Cults of RuneQuest: The Lightbringers describes the following 19 cults in 168 pages: Orlanth, king of the gods, god of storms, wind, and adventurers; Chalana Arroy, goddess of compassion and healing; Issaries, god of trade; Lhankor Mhy, god of knowledge and writing; Eurmal, god of tricksters; Barntar, god of farmers; Daka Fal, Judge of the Dead; Foundchild, god of hunting; Gagarth, god of senseless violence and outlaws; Heler, deity of rain; Humakt, god of war and swords; Lanbril, god of thieves; Mastakos, god of movement; Odayla, god of bears and hunting; Storm Bull, god of Chaos-fighting; Valind, god of winter; Waha, god of survival in the wastelands; Ygg, god of destructive storm and piracy; and Yinkin, god of shadowcats.

So, while in the rulebook you get a brief description of each deity, the spells they provide, and the requirements for becoming a god-talker, priest/priestess, and runelord/runelady, here you get much more. For starters, the main myths of each deity. For example, in the case of Orlanth you get the myths of the contests with Yelm, Orlanth against Aroka, the fight against Sh'harkazeel, the Well of Daliath and the Lightbringers' Quest on top of other minor ones. Since I am a sucker for myths, I would have loved for this section to be even more detailed, but it does cover the most important ones (and if you want more, there's the Book of Heortling Mythology). Then you get an account of the history of the cult since the Dawn of Time, followed by the deity's otherworld (the place where the souls of worshipers go after death), funerary rites, and iconography.

The Orlanth cult has a longer description than the other cults as befits the King of the Gods

After that, the book describes the nature of the cult: why it is important, what is its social-political power, and its particular likes and dislikes. This last section tells you how characters following a particular deity tend to behave. For example, Orlanth teaches that honor is important, and the Storm god punishes worshipers who violate their oaths. Therefore, if you are playing an Orlanth initiate you know you have to be careful about what you swear to do. As the authors claim in the introduction: "The mythological actions of the deity determine the appropriate actions for the worshipers who partake of the deity's power".

The next section details the organization of the cult, including the subcults or facets of a god that can be worshiped independently. For example, in the case of Orlanth, the main subcults are Orlanth Thunderous, Orlanth Adventurous, Orlanth Rex, and Orlanth Lightbringer. The Orlanth Rex subcult is described in detail and you also get the requirements for becoming a clan chief and tribal king. The Lightbringer subcult, however, is described in passing. Since it is the heroquesting aspect of the god, it may only provide help to heroquesters, and that topic will be hopefully covered in a future publication. It then deals withs temples and holy places, and then the different levels of membership. The book lists some holy places for every cult, but it does not tell you where all the temples are, nor the subcults every temple has available. I guess this will be covered in the Sartar book, but maybe it is best to leave it undefined so you can tailor the access to the subcults depending on the characters your players create. Aside from the main subcults, the Orlanth cult also has many other minor subcults, and here they all get a brief description together with the magic they provide, like Barntar, Drogarsi, Vinga, Voriof, Vingkot, The Four Magic Weapons, Sartar, the Thunder Brothers, and others.

Section about the main subcults of Orlanth, the temples and holy places, and lay membership requirements

Here you can also find the requirements to become a lay member. This lowest level of membership is interesting because it makes cults less compartmentalized. Lay members are informal or temporal members of a cult, with less responsibilities than initiates, but also fewer benefits, usually only the cult spirit magic spells. So I think the average inhabitant of Dragon Pass might be lay member of several cults, and at the very least Orlanth initiates are lay members of the Ernalda cult, and vice versa (because both cults are very close to each other - they are married, after all).

Other cool details are the spirits of reprisal of every cult, as well as the most common cult spirits. I was expecting to find proper stats for cult spirits, but instead, they are just mentioned so every gamemaster will need to create them as they see fit. For example, in the case of Orlanth, cloud spirits are mentioned, but what exactly are their powers? 

Chalana Arroy, goddess of compassion, is a pacifist healer cult.

Other cool things I like is the extended list of associated cults. For example, Kolat provides the Bind Wind Rune spell to Orlanth initiates, which makes it easier to bind air elementals. Ygg grants his Windwalking spell to initiates of Adventurous and Rex, but I wonder if many temples in Dragon Pass include a shrine to this god from the far-away western coast of Genertela. I also like a lot the description of well-known Orlanthi heroes such as Gorangi Vak or Hachrat Blowhard, and the brief  descriptions of the cult in other lands. For example, in Ralios the subcult of Garundyer teaches the Hailstones Rune spell, which is quite destructive.

Finally, one very positive surprise is the "Other" or "Miscellaneous Notes" at the end of most cults. This includes varied information, such as the concept of kinstrife in the case of Orlanth, but also the mention of Stormwalkers, mystics who can stack Thunderbolt spells among themselves. In the case of Issaries, it includes a cool text about trade in Dragon Pass and the main goods that are traded with neighboring lands. For Chalana Arroy, you get information about payment for services, rules for finding and refining healing plants, and how healing spirits fight against disease spirits. In the case of Humakt, it describes the rules for humakti duels, and the Lanbril cult includes the special devices thieves may use, among other details. This is great, because the book does not only provide you with all the information about these cults, but also adds background information of the areas they influence.

Daka Fal is the Judge of the Dead, and also god of ancestor worship

In general, I think the best in terms of content are the myths, the extra subcults, these extra bits of background information, and also the new cults included like Heler, Gagarth, Mastakos, Lanbril, and Ygg.

Little details that I found interesting:

  • The fact that Orlanth initiates can call the aid of Gagarth in combat. I can't imagine a Gagarthi bandit offering to help, but maybe it could happen in extreme circumstances.
  • Sartar learnt how to work stone from Kero Fin, but I thought it was the dwarves that helped him build Boldhome.
  • While a tribal king undergoes the test to become king, a priest of Eurmal becomes the head of the tribal council. I guess that is enough motivation for the future king to finish the test as quickly as possible!
  • Daka Fal has a different process for becoming a shaman-priest. Depending on a random roll, it may be easier or more difficult than the method described in the rulebook.
  • Humakt temples are organized in regiments, with initiates commanding ten lay members, and veteran initiates ten other initiates. The subcult of Hiia Swordsman provides the Rune spell Strongblade, which is quite cool, as that hero was one-armed.
  • Missionaries took the worship of the Storm gods to the island of Melib in 1586!
  • Mastakos now provides the Proteus and Meld Form spells, which so far only Triolina had, letting his initiates shapechange into many different animals.
  • The example ancestor cults in the Daka Fal cult include Biselenslib and SurEnslib, two Dara Happan goddesses, as well as the cult of Votank from Griffin Mountain.
  • The mystery of the Sky Bear, a constellation interpreted very differently by several cultures.

The sages of the Lhankor Mhy cult provide writing skills and knowledge

The art

The art in this book is out of this world, the best that could have possibly been used. It makes me immensely happy to see the gods and goddesses finally depicted with such level of awesomeness, but also the way the book combines cool depictions of deities with how Gloranthans depict them. The cover by Loïc Muzy is totally stunning, with Orlanth appearing in majestic powerful shape before two of his major enemies (I guess Nysalor and the Red Goddess), with such level of detail and vibrant palette of colors that it is a pleasure to look at. The pieces by Andrey Fetisov are also awesome. I particularly love the full-page pieces for Lhankor Mhy, Humakt, and Storm Bull, and I'm kind of in love with Chalana Arroy. These include some Hindu iconography like mudras (hand gestures with meaning). I also think the devotional figures used as filler art are great, as they give you a glimpse of a worshiper's everyday life. Katrin Dirim's genealogy is also great, with a style that reminds me both of ancient Egyptian and Aztec art, and it is very helpful to get a good perspective of who's who in the extended family of Storm gods. It's not complete, but it contains as many gods as the artist could fit in one page, which is no easy task. The Glorantha Sourcebook also contains great graphic genealogies of Gloranthan deities, but less complete. As for Agathe Pitié's full-page piece, depicting the main deeds of Orlanth and the Lightbringers, it is a great composition. Although I'm less fond of her style, you can easily picture that as a tapestry or fresco decorating some great temple of Orlanth. All these pieces are incredibly detailed, so you can spend a while absorbing all the mysteries they contain. For example, why is Sedenya (a name for the Red Goddess) cheering up and smiling at the young Orlanth Adventurous? Does that mean they were friendly at some point in the God Time? Food for thought...

Finally, I also have to praise the layout of the book. It is attractive and well done. For example, I have noticed they have taken pains to leave no blank space in most pages, which is great. Still, sometimes they have achieved that by repeating some information or including some spell descriptions or skills that are already on the core rulebook. While it is convenient to have a relevant skill or spell repeated here so you do not need to look it up elsewhere, in some cases the repetition is too blatant, for example the repetition of the Breath is in everyone poem, or the Flood Rune spell description in the Orlanth cult.

The cult of Gagarth is for bandits who have been outlawed from society, and it is pretty badass.

A note about earlier editions

RuneQuest and its Gloranthan cult books go back to 1978 when the first edition of the game was published. Since then, each edition has had its own book of cults, starting with Cults of Prax for RQ2, then Gods of Glorantha and River of Cradles for RQ3, the cult books for HeroWars and HeroQuest, and even the cult books for Mongoose's RuneQuest. In the same way the RQG rulebook is close to RQ2 with some details from RQ3Cults of RuneQuest: The Lightbringers is quite close to the text in Cults of Prax, but also to the long cult descriptions in River of Cradles (which only included Orlanth, Chalana Arroy, Issaries, Lhankor Mhy, Daka Fal, and Storm Bull). Very roughly speaking, I think the text is 70% the same as a combination of Cults of Prax and River of Cradles, but 30% is new. So even if you have those old supplements from earlier editions, I would still strongly recommend buying the Cults of RuneQuest series, because not only are the cults adapted to the current edition (obviously), but they also contain interesting new details, subcults, and spells. On top of that, it includes some cults that had previously only been described in RuneQuest terms in magazines and fanzines (like Tales of the Reaching Moon and Tradetalk), and even some that had never had a RuneQuest version, such as Barntar, Heler, and Ygg. Not to mention the presentation is way, way better now than it ever was.

Still, it would have been cool to include a new set of tales like the tale of Biturian Varosh in Cults of Prax, because fiction is great to flesh out the cults from an in-world perspective. Maybe it would have taken too much space, but it would be awesome to have any Gloranthan fiction available, such as The Widow's Tale.

Lanbril the faceless god teaches useful professional skills and spells to thieves and criminals.

In a nutshell

Cults of RuneQuest: The Lightbringers is an essential book for playing RuneQuest campaigns in Dragon Pass, Prax, Esrolia, Heortland, Tarsh, and other more distant lands such as Peloria, Fronela, Pent, and even Umathela. Gamemasters need it to better describe the world and the cults, and also to create NPCs. They can also use many details to spin adventures. For players it is also interesting to better roleplay their characters, and see what subcults they can access to get spells they like, and perhaps what other cults their characters may want to join. For example, with this book you can now create Wolf Pirates, Gagarthi bandits, Barntar farmers, or Lanbril thieves and criminals. Finally, you may also find it interesting just for the pleasure of reading a huge exercise on fictional mythology. If Cults of Prax was a phenomenal publication in its time, Cults of RuneQuest: The Lightbringers surpasses it both in content and presentation. You will love it.

The best:

  • The art and layout are top-notch.
  • The mythological and historical context of each deity.
  • The information about lay members, subcults, and hero cults.
  • It includes details about how these deities are worshiped outside of Dragon Pass.
  • It describes cults that had so far had never had a RuneQuest version.
  • Even veteran RuneQuesters will find some new background information.

The nitpicker in me:

  • Tiny divergences with the core rulebook: Eurmal the Fool provides Fumble instead of Group Laughter. Why not both?
  • It would have been cool to include a tale similar to the travels of Biturian Varosh.
  • No stats for example cult spirits.

Cults of RuneQuest: The Lightbringers is available from Chaosium's website for 40$ in hardcover and from Chaosium and DrivethruRPG in PDF for 20$. Also remember your FLGS. Please leave a comment below with your opinion, and share my review if you enjoyed it. :-)

Other books in the Cults of RuneQuest series: The Prosopaedia, Earth Goddesses, Mythology (available in October), The Lunar Way (coming in the 1st quarter of 2024), and coming later on: Solar Gods, Sea Gods, Darkness Gods, Chaos Gods, Spirit Cults, and The Humanists. Finally, all the new spells contained in these supplements have been compiled in The Red Book of Magic together with the rest of spells.

2 comentarios:

  1. I would like to see a few more Vinga informations, as it is an interesting cult for players with female characters.

    1. Well this book does not add any other details particular to Vinga as to what already is in the rulebook. But you could develop an independent cult and add extra cool spells. You could adapt the ones suggested in Thunder Rebels for HeroQuest, for example. In the 90s there was a website with a fan made Vinga cult which offered a spirit magic spell that raised your Dodge skill.


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